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NEW ORLEANS—Ryan “Baby Star” Starsailor announced today amidst the torrential rainfall and violent chaos of the 7th Ward that he had come out of retirement and would resume his previous non-occupation of traveling the United States of America under the pretense of “wanting to hang out and write some crap.”

“I just got sick of paying bills, man,” said Starsailor, wiping tears from his eyes. “Those Oakland streets were really chewing me up. I have a lot of fun over there and I’m gonna stick around for a long time, but I gotta start going places like I used to or I’m gonna pop.”

Starsailor, whose recent trip to New Orleans awakened him to the fact that he had been vacantly staring at the same walls for far too long, says he plans to completely change the way he earns money and fills the hours in order to accommodate his desired lifestyle of transience and discomfort.

“When I get back home I figure I’ll drive rich people around in that old police car me and John have to make some money. I’ve done it a couple dozens times in San Francisco and people go nuts about it. Maybe now that I’ll be making my own schedule and earning every penny myself I’ll have time to go off and finish my novel. That thing needs to be done already—before I’m done, if you know what I mean. It just isn’t happening right now. I’m spread too thin. If you saw me right now you’d say, ‘Now there goes a broken man.’ I’m static and vapor. I’m a ghost’s fart.”

Before losing consciousness, Starsailor had this to add: “Baby—what else can I say: I’m back. I’m ready to go places and write and sleep on your couch while you’re at work. I’m a free man. I gotta be free. I was dead for a while but now I’m alive again. As alive as I’ll ever be, anyway. And that’s something. It certainly isn’t nothing.”

I don’t feel well. I closed all the shutters in Leila’s room partly for the novelty, but mostly because I’m tired of seeing the sun. A thunderstorm woke me this morning and I figured it would keep raining all day—in fact I hoped it would, I haven’t seen rain in three months—but it stopped around noon and the sky has been clear since.

Beyond the closed shutters and ten feet below me is a little garden. I tried to get to it but an iron-wrought gate kept me from entering through the back door in the kitchen. When Leila gets home I will ask her where the key is. For now I am trapped inside this ancient house.

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All day I have watched the light move across the sky, have watched the plants shake on this desk whenever I tap a single key on my computer. The air conditioner is on and the room is cool. The rest of the house is steamy and humid but it feels nice.

At this point I have had three cups of tea and a sip of Leila’s lukewarm Anchor Steam she took from a bar last night—a bar where you can get a haircut while you drink. I found an apple in the refrigerator and ate that too. It didn’t do much for me though. My stomach is so empty it hurts. I have considered walking to Cake Cafe a mile away to get something to eat. I haven’t been there in three years. I remember it being good. But I also feel fine here even with all that emptiness inside me.

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And anyway the door is still locked, and I still don’t know what to do about that. I could open a top-story window and climb down but I don’t know how I’d get back up. If I fell I might break something. Despite the State of California’s near-daily insistence that I have health insurance, I don’t actually have health insurance. So I’m here.

The entire house shakes when a truck passes. At least a hundred have passed by today. I don’t know if that’s normal. I’ve only been here a day.

In the darkness Leila and I walked beneath gaslit lanterns and alien vegetation. She told me a cyclist was hit by a tractor-trailer just blocks from where we were. She said someone took a picture and she had seen it. The cyclist was decapitated and his legs were separated from his torso. People are getting raped and mugged too, she said. New Orleans, for all its strange beauty, is still mostly a lawless place. As we went along I scanned the blackness and the hidden places there for the ugly faces that would do us harm.

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A complete stranger has just called. She says she wants to take me to a park. I told her I would go as long as she had me back by six-thirty. That is when Leila returns, and when the two of us will eat those little squares from Golden Gate Park just to see what happens.

Tomorrow I go to Lafayette. On Monday I go to Austin. After that I guess I’ll go home.

(Previously: THE GREAT DUCK MURDER)

At noon I emerged from my nest of rags with a football of dog feces lodged in my throat . . . nothing but static in my head, bones twisted and wrong, tar under my fingernails. Breathing in that stale midday air I knew it was going to be another miserable eighteen hours of wakefulness—of chaos and scattered sadness and barely perceptible tragedies that I alone would witness. Some I would even render myself.

Walking down the hallway I made known to absolutely no one at all my opinion on waking up, and on being alive in general: “This again, huh.”

I needed fluids, so I stomped into the bathroom and drank a half gallon of water from the faucet, hoping to kill the taste and push it—whatever it was—into a bath of stomach acid deep below.

In the mirror I saw a bloated armadillo carcass and decided it was probably my face. I hadn’t shaved in days. There was cigarette ash in my hair. The spiderweb cracks under my eyes whispered, Sooner than later you’ll be dead.

Soaked in cold water I lurched down the hallway toward the stove, slumping against the wall to keep from falling down, and once in the mouth of the kitchen I grabbed a marker and managed to scribble on the dry-erase board above the trash can the only English words I could find in my brain:

“THERE WAS A LITTLE TOOL SHED WHERE HE MADE US SUFFER, SAD SATAN”

Against the adjacent wall was a mile-high stack of tin cans and beer bottles and crushed cereal boxes. On the floor I saw tumbleweeds of cat hair. I put the kettle on the burner and flicked the dial left till fire appeared from some hidden place. It was high time for tea. Hell, it was high time for hate.

Sitting naked on the couch, eyes dumb and drooping, I examined my arms, skeletal and poorly assembled, a thin layer of skin saran-wrapped around the mangled structure of some damn thing that once worked the way it should. The sunlight was all bad and the air was hot and heavy. I took in a chunky lungful and nearly threw up in my mouth but stopped short. Really ought to have just gone ahead and let it out of me, I thought . . . probably would have been more honest that way. But I was barely anything at all just then, and to lose more of myself seemed irresponsible.

I glanced down at my dick and frowned. There was nothing new to report on that front.

Sunset and Dawn were out on the porch sucking down cigarettes like Coca-Cola and I could tell I wanted nothing to do with their conversation. I heard “Well, it’s simply a perversion of the Oedipus complex. . . .” and knew I had to get the hell out of there before I screamed myself stupid.

Stood up and arched my back and listened to the bubbly chemicals between my vertebrae snap, crackle, and pop. For a moment I considered sitting down at the pathetic little desk in my bedroom to sort through case files. We had a whole stack of them that Sunset and I hadn’t bothered with for months . . . we’d been content to jerk off after midnight and dream of nicer weather . . . but the thought rotted away and instead I shook my head and closed my eyes and held my breath and tried to picture someone, anyone, who would drop to their knees when they heard I was cold and empty-eyed for-ever—and finding no one in my mind’s rolodex, I placed one death-white foot forward, not sure why, the wood under my feet disagreeable, then another, still bad, eyes slammed shut and sparkling with violent broken sparks, and walked straight into a wall, feeling nothing. My eyes and brain weren’t making moving pictures of the world any longer, at least not then, and so I bathed in the sad dark soup in my head, hearing the faint mumbling of the assholes outside who were still going on about this and that and sounding a whole lot like a couple of cavemen who had taken a few community college courses one summer a long fucking time ago.

Somewhere in the house, I think near the washing machine, I thought about the impulses of animals: to eat, to sleep, to fuck, to shit somewhere safe.

What were mine? Certainly nothing of consequence. To be destroyed? To cackle wildly in the face of great evil? To be comforted by the warmth of another human body? All window-dressing.

But Jesus, that Roth girl really had combed my hair with her fingers the night before in the dark wastes of ruby-lighted bar over by Lake Merritt. Hadn’t she?

Yes, she had connected her body to mine and quickly disconnected it once I had uttered the wrong thing—or had she simply heard the wrong thing? I couldn’t remember. Probably never knew what I had been saying in the first place. Just rambling for the sake of hearing the sound of my voice, crisp and dumb.

I shivered when I recalled her punching me in the chest and telling me I was a worthless creep before storming out of the place. And I had chased her outside where she threw her bicycle light at me, saying, “God damn these cheap batteries!” and me saying, “Baby, don’t go.”

A trio of homeless guys hanging out nearby chuckled when she angrily sped away from me. I must have looked like a dope, standing there holding that dead light and not knowing why.

But for those few minutes back in the bar her touch had gone right in me, and then through me, and working its way along the tar pits deep below, gave me the faintest hope for myself and every living creature out there who is insane and foolish enough to say ‘yes’ to tomorrow. . . .

(Continued )

I’m doing a lot of thinking. I think I’m a genius with cartoon logic. A therapist referred to me as such. Rather, I referred to myself as such, and she laughed. She was a smart therapist, she worked with teenage gang members, and adults with ADHD. I asked her if there was a similarity between them (as a joke), and she gave a long, sincere, disturbing answer that I still think about all the time. I liked her a ton. She had the face and build of a friendly English bulldog. She did not think I should go back to school.

This was after a few sessions.

The topic of discussion was: what are you going to do with your life? And I said, “I’m going to move to California.” And she said, for what reason? And I said, “I met somebody on the internet.” Then, after seeing an expression on her face that prompted me to explain myself (and there was a weird story behind it that defied any sort of logical explanation, and in general, I hate explaining myself), I said instead, “Belay my last. I have no idea.”

“Belay my last” is Navy terminology for “I take that back”.

I was going to join the Navy before moving to California, is why I know that. Most people liked this idea. Most people were proud of me for making an Adult Decision.

I went to MEPs. That is a facility that processes recruits, future soldiers and sailors. I scored nearly perfect on the aptitude tests (the only thing I fucked up was spatial reasoning, something I’ve never been any good at). I got along with no one there. Then I talked to a doctor.

I did not disclose the depression to the doctor.
I did not disclose the anxiety to the doctor.
I did not disclose the self-mutilation to the doctor.
I did not disclose the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to the doctor.
I did not disclose that I do not like being told what to do, ever, to the doctor.

We all took our clothes off and stood in a line. There was a very attractive girl with large breasts that I tried not to look at. The doctor saw all of my scars, I saw her moth-eyes flit up and down my body and hold a stare, just for a second, at the patterns on my upper thighs. And she looked at my face and looked away. And then she told us all to walk like ducks across the room. We did a piss test, and I prayed that the Adderall I had been taking (to concentrate on my Navy studying) wouldn’t show up. Because I would have gotten kicked out.

I could not salute. I couldn’t remember how to salute. The Petty Officer pulled me aside to try to help me with my salute. Everyone there was confused. I was confused. I would pull the salute from my head, stand at parade rest, and then forget how to salute instantly.

I would lie in my bed at night and salute to try to commit it to muscle memory.

I got very close to joining the Navy. A month from my ship date, I stopped showing up to meetings. The chief called and hurled petty insults at me and yelled at me, and I laughed at him. I laughed at him so hard tears formed in my eyes, and I hung up.

In my defense, I probably could have sued him for some of the things he said to me.

I’m just thinking today. I sent a lot of really insane emails to somebody I love and have a lot of respect for, which I regret doing. I quit my job. I have 200 dollars in my bank account. I’ve never felt more scared.

Every night I drive aimlessly around Lake Merritt and through downtown Oakland and into the peaceful vanilla suburbs surrounding Berkeley. I try to forget about how little money I have, and how I don’t have health insurance, and how I probably own too few pairs of underwear. I go to dark places and see the darkness there. And once inside of it I park beneath a row of trees and get out. I wander the streets and put poison in my lungs. I stare emptily at warmly-lit windows and wonder about the mundane things going on behind them.

I walk by playgrounds and remember that children exist.

In vain I hope that someone will invite me into their house to drink tea and listen to music. Or climb small buildings and look at the hills.

No one else is around. I am alone. I am the only one seeing the nothing that happens there at night.

Later I drive back to Ghost Town and park the car two blocks from my house. I kill the engine and sit there listening to a few songs. Eventually I decide to go home. Walking down Sab Pablo Avenue I see graffiti on the sidewalk that I have passed hundreds of times. It says “GOD IS LOVE.” I think about getting a can of spray paint and changing it to “GOD IS TIRED.”

As I turn onto my street a homeless man asks me for a buck and I hand him a two-dollar bill I was planning to include in a letter to a pretty girl in Lafeyette. He tries to sell me a suitcase and I decline.

Further down another man asks if he can give me his dentures for collateral. I say, “Collateral for what?” and with watery eyes he says, “Brother I just need ten dollars to make it through the week.” I tell him to keep his teeth and I go inside and find whatever bills I have on my desk and give them to him.

I lock the door behind me and put the kettle on the burner. I make sleepytime tea and take a melatonin. I have absentmindedly made the fatal error of combining the two. Either I will sleep forever or I will die before the sun comes up. As far as I can tell there is no real difference between these outcomes.

Dante jumps on the kitchen counter and chirrups to let me know he is hungry. With a silver knife that is not mine I slice a puck of expensive cat food in half and shovel it out of a tin can and into a little blue bowl. I pour warm water over it and set it on the floor. He laps it up and purrs.

I don’t open the cabinets or the refrigerator to make food for myself. I have no food for myself.

I go into my room and sit in the center of my bed. Under the glow of many Christmas lights I write letters to people in Texas and Virginia and Quebec and Nova Scotia. The window is open and I hear my neighbor screaming at her children.

Blade Runner is muted on my television. I glance up at the screen and watch Harrison Ford kiss Sean Young for maybe the five-hundredth time in my life.

No one will be coming to kiss me tonight or any night. When they want to see me they will make me come to them. And mostly I won’t.

When I sleep I dream of all the different ways I could die.

Tonight my car is on Stinson Beach. There are no stars and no moon in the sky. I am sitting in the driver’s seat looking at the ocean. I am not thinking of anything. After a while my vision goes black.

Now I am someone else and it is daylight. I trace the tire tracks in the sand to the decommissioned police car resting near the shoreline. The inside windows are covered in blood. The person behind the wheel is probably dead. I am probably dead. I don’t approach the car. I wince at the sun. I stare at the waves.